Some summits are more important to climb (and stage) than others, and the ECO moot in Islamabad is of particular significance for the hosts, Pakistan. There are ten members of the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) and all of them potential or actual trading partners. Much has been made of the failure of Afghanistan to send a high-ranking government representative, but Afghanistan is not the only game in town for Pakistani companies wanting to trade their wares. The opening up of the Central Asian markets as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) evolves is going to provide a plethora of future opportunities and regional stability as a whole can only be enhanced by the facilitation of trade routes.
Not all multinational/international groupings such as the ECO have smooth rides. The recent death of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) strangled at birth by President Trump, and Saarc that was always hamstrung by the Indo-Pakistan relationship are cases in point. That said, the omens are considerably better for the ECO, a grouping whose time may have finally arrived. The first session was opened by PM Nawaz Sharif who spoke of the benefits of cooperation in trade, transport and energy, all areas where Pakistan would benefit from an uptick.
The potential is obvious — 16% of the world population lives in the 10 member states but they generate a meagre two per cent of global trade. Oil and gas pipelines are connecting states that were never previously connected, and our differences with Afghanistan — and India — cannot be allowed to overshadow the wider goals. The Indian difficulty is not going to be resolved any time soon and neither our problems with Afghanistan, but the economy has to move and grow notwithstanding. Had Afghanistan sent a delegate at a higher level they would have been welcomed; but the fact is that Afghanistan has recognised the need to stay engaged with this important grouping and decided not to boycott it — which in itself is encouraging for the future. Regional relationships are fast evolving, and it is time for Pakistan to look beyond old conflicts and move out of the box that has constrained for far too long.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 2nd, 2017.
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